A recent article in the New York Post caught my eye, yet another diatribe from the mainstream media on how the "fad" of poker is beginning to burn out. The article, in the Sunday online edition of the Post, reported on the latest Diet Pepsi commercial, which featured poker professionals Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Scotty Nguyen squaring off in a poker tournament against the Diet Pepsi can. In the article, it also reported the downturn of viewership on television of many of the most popular poker tournaments, including the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour, and of "Celebrity Poker Showdown." It was, to say the least, a very one-sided look at the poker world of today.
The spot itself is almost a cause of celebration rather than a sorrowful denouement on poker. Others that have been featured in the current Diet Pepsi advertising series include actor Jackie Chan and businessman/rap star P. Diddy. Are these stalwarts of popular culture on their way out as well? To be honest, it was a funny and lighthearted spot which, rather than pointing out the demise of poker, actually shows how much the game of poker has become a part of worldwide culture.
One only needs to take a full look at the continuing renaissance of the game today to see that it is in fine shape. Poker rooms are either being instituted in casinos that had long ago disbanded them (most notably Caesars Palace and the Venetian in Las Vegas) or are being expanded (the Foxwoods poker room's renovation is almost complete and is ready to be unveiled during the next WPT stop in April). These expansions or additions aren't frivolities, either; live-action poker rooms have been bursting at the seams over the last few years and needed the extra room to accommodate more players, anxious to take part in the live game that they have seen on television.
Television viewership, while not at its peak of a few years ago, is still a viable programming option for many networks. NBC recently counter-programmed the Super Bowl pre-game show with the finals of the Poker Superstars International to notable success and their National Heads Up Poker Championship was a certifiable hit in its introductory season last year (this year's championship starts on April 16th). Both the Travel Channel and ESPN are quite happy with the performance of their respective poker entities, with both engaged in multi-year deals that extend through the near future of the game. Repeat showings of those tournament and many other events also hold up well, as viewers come back to review the action and learn more about the game.
Finally, you only have to look at the continued success of online poker to ascertain that poker is here to stay. The most powerful of the online gaming arenas are actively traded on financial markets in Europe, delivering a boost to the economy. New rooms come to the game nearly every month, vying for a part of what has become a multi-billion dollar industry. If there wasn't the interest from the gaming public, wouldn't this booming trend have died a long time ago?
The Post presented a very one-sided and extremely limited view on poker. Rather than take a trip to neighboring Atlantic City and viewing the activity in the poker rooms of the Taj Mahal or the Borgata or objectively analyzing the complete picture of the continued success of both live action poker rooms in California and Las Vegas (among other areas of the world) and online poker rooms (despite the continued attacks of possible legislation), the Post opted to take a "tunnel vision" approach to their look at the game today. While the Post (and others) may not like it very much, the game of poker, having never really left, is here to stay for the long term.